Whether you consider it a contradiction in terms, a total aberration or the ultimate all-rounder, there’s no denying the performance SUV has the ability to stir debate. On paper, these high-riding and highly tuned machines shouldn’t work for keen drivers, yet they’re flying out of showrooms quicker than most can get to 62mph.
In many ways it’s not hard to see their appeal, the combination of pace and practicality allowing them to slip easily into most lives. What’s more, despite a hefty kerbweight and a high centre of gravity, many drive with greater poise, precision and panache than you’d believe, allowing them to be hustled hard over give-and-take roads.
Then there’s usual upmarket SUV perks of a luxurious cabin, commanding view out and the all-weather security of all-wheel drive. And, if it’s your bag, there’s kerbside kudos of all that fashionable off-road intent. On paper, these are cars that have all the bases covered.
Our top 10 here represents the high performance heartland for SUVs, with a mid-sized vibe and a price ceiling of around £100,000 (although some of our contenders float a little above this self-imposed limit). If you want more exotic and rarefied fast 4x4s such as the Lamborghini Urus, then here’s our list of Super SUVs.
If any SUV is going to earn grudging respect from the died-in-the-wool sportscar fan, then it’s the Macan. Despite nearing its tenth birthday (and essentially being based on the original Audi Q5, which debuted in 2008), Porsche’s entry-level off-roader continues to set the bar in this closely fought class, with a blend of pace, space and dynamic grace that makes even the greatest naysayers nod in approval.
With a new, all-electric version on the horizon, Porsche has both spruced-up and pared-back the current Macan line-up, with an end-of-life facelift. The flagship Turbo has gone, but the GTS that effectively replaces it packs the same 434bhp turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 so there’s no loss in performance (you’ll be at 62mph from a standstill in just 4.5 seconds, while the top speed is a biscuit under 170mph).
Crucially, its subtly lowered and uprated suspension delivers the sort of involving and agile driving experience that has you convinced you’re in something smaller and more hot hatch-shaped – it’s physics-defying antics beggar belief. The steering also has a similar weighting and response to the brand’s low-slung road-burners, while the expensively tuned dampers are cast iron in control but cushioned in operation.
Yet with its standard air suspension and cossesting, lavishly appointed interior, the Macan is a relaxed and easy-going as an executive saloon when you just want to cruise. It’s not quite as roomy as some of the younger entries here, but there’s enough space that you’ll get few complaints. If you only ever drive one SUV, make it this one.